Members of student group H*yas for Choice delivered an open letter to Georgetown University administrators Monday demanding the university maintain its coverage of contraception in student health insurance plans.
Two rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services on Oct. 6 rolled back a mandate of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s health care law, which required most employers to cover contraception in employer-provided health insurance plans. The actions expanded the list of organizations that can receive religious exemptions from the mandate to include nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies and institutions of higher education.
Georgetown has yet to say whether it will continue covering access to contraception under university-provided student health insurance plans. The Catholic university did not provide contraceptive coverage until the Affordable Care Act mandate was enacted.
Thirteen members of H*yas for Choice delivered the letter to the Office of the President. Annie Mason (COL ’18), co-president of H*yas for Choice, read the letter aloud to Joseph Ferrara, chief of staff the university president, before leaving copies for other administrators not present.
H*yas for Choice, a campus pro-abortion rights organization not officially recognized by the university, is calling on Georgetown to maintain its contraception coverage.
The open letter, addressed to University President John J. DeGioia and six other administrators, asks the university to clarify the nature of its decision-making process regarding contraceptive coverage and to include students in that decision-making process.
A student health advisory board, intended to provide a platform for student input on student health issues such as contraceptive coverage, was originally set to launch this semester, but has yet to be established. Administrators now planning to establish the board this spring.
Michaela Lewis (COL ’18), co-president of H*yas for Choice, said she hopes Georgetown would continue its contraception policy required by the Affordable Care Act.
“We are hoping that the university keeps the policy that it had to implement under the ACA,” Lewis said. “Because the university has implemented this policy when they had to, we know that it’s possible.”
Rachel Pugh, Georgetown senior director for strategic communications, said students will continue to have a platform to voice their concerns about health insurance.
“Senior leaders from Georgetown frequently meet with students on health insurance issues – with a session on health coverage with graduate students convened as recently as last week – and will continue to be accessible moving forward,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Mason said transparency is a crucial step the administration can take to acknowledge the complexity of the issue and commit to addressing it in a way that is “as humanizing and validating as possible.”
The contraceptive mandate, which required all employer health insurance plans to cover at least one form of birth control effective August 2012, exempted certain religious organizations with moral opposition to contraception. However, the exceptions were narrowed under the Affordable Care Act rule, excluding universities such as Georgetown with religious affiliations that provide health insurance for students.
The contraceptive mandate required insurance companies to directly cover contraception for individuals covered by religiously affiliated organizations with objections to contraception, a rule left unchanged under President Donald Trump’s administration’s rollback.
Pugh said Trump’s rules do not alter the system in which United Healthcare directly pays for contraception covered on the Premier Plan.
“As a religiously-affiliated organization, Georgetown receives an accommodation under which our insurer offers coverage at no cost to the University or plan participants,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are currently reviewing the new regulations and in the meantime our current accommodation remains in place.”
Since 2013, Georgetown’s student health insurance has covered contraception through United Healthcare. This academic year, over 6,600 students are enrolled in the Premier Plan, the highest enrollment in university history.
Georgetown is not the first Catholic university to face pressure over contraception coverage since the mandate rollback. The University of Notre Dame initially decided to stop covering birth control last month, then unexpectedly reversed its decision on Nov. 7 after student backlash.
Amelia Irvine (COL ’19), president of Love Saxa, a student group that promotes traditional views of relationships and sexuality, said administrators should consider the university’s Catholic background in deciding whether to continue contraceptive coverage.
“They should definitely consider their Catholic identity and how that plays into their rights and responsibilities to their employees and their students,” Irvine said.
Irvine said Georgetown should consider ending contraceptive coverage because of “Catholic sexual ethics.” The Catholic Church officially opposes all forms of contraception.
Mason urged the administration to consider the needs of the community.
“Often we get sort of lost in legal rhetoric, and what’s Catholic enough, and what is the law, and maybe we could do this and what’s the cheapest,” Mason said. “We forget that these are actual experiences of people on this campus whom we see every day.”